Things to see and do: Princetown to Warrnambool, Victoria

From Princetown it’s just 4km to Gibsons Step, the first stop-off point on the treacherous Shipwreck Coast which stretches from here to Port Fairy. This area is characterised by steep limestone cliffs and, offshore eroded rock stacks left by centuries of strong winds and crashing waves.
The steep and slippery Gibsons Steps were built by the Aboriginals and maintained by Hugh Gibson of the Glenample Homestead. Walk down them for access to a wild, kelp-covered beach which sits beneath the vertical limestone mass of the mainland and across from the vast height of the two rock stacks out to sea, called Gog and MaGog. Being among these geological giants makes most visitors feel dwarfed and it’s here that the sheer size of the rock formations along this coast will start to sink in. From here, head west through Port Campbell National Park and into ever more spectacular territory.

There are numerous points at which you can stop and appreciate the view along here and it won’t be long before the picture-postcard rock stacks of the Twelve Apostles shoulder their way into view.

These rugged pinnacles which jut out of the Southern Ocean are constantly being undercut by the water beneath them and some even seem as if they must be on the verge of collapse – indeed in 2005 one of the stacks did suddenly crash into the sea, altering the iconic view forever.

Princetown to Warrnambool route map. Illustration by Lisa Joanes

For the best view of this unlikely line-up try to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds that build up throughout the day. If you want to get an even closer view, and a better sense of their sheer size, take a sightseeing boat trip around the stacks – you may even be lucky enough to see bottlenose and common dolphins. A little further along the coast you will reach Loch Ard Gorge, the scene of the wreck of the Lord Ard. Hope for rough weather, when the ocean roars through the narrow opening between the towering cliffs, putting on quite a show and exhibiting the awesome power which has dashed so many ships and created these unique sights. Spend some time exploring the network of short walks around the gorge to a series of viewpoints, including the Blowhole, which in the right weather, spurts blasts of water into the air, and look out for mutton birds – large numbers of these impressive oceanic flyers nest on Mutton Bird Island, just offshore.

With so much to see in Port Campbell National Park, you’re sure to need the whole day, so plan to spend the night just minutes away in the small settlement of Port Campbell. Here you will find the fabulous new Southern Ocean Villas, a collection of contemporary, self-contained villas offering stylish, luxury accommodation for up to six people. Located a five-minute walk from Port Campbell town center you can stroll into Lord Street for dinner, where you’ll find a strip of eateries from laidback cafés to upmarket restaurants to enjoy before turning in for the night.

The next morning why not get out on, or rather under, the water? Port Campbell is the staging point for diving around the Twelve Apostles and offers numerous different dives, including the fascinating Arches marine sanctuary where the limestone ocean floor forms an array of intriguing canyons, caves and tunnels. The cool waters and dark underside of the rock formations allow marine life normally only found much deeper to flourish. Look out for Port Jackson sharks, scaly fin, wrasse and zebra fish as well as colonies of brightly coloured sea fans, lace corals and gorgonian sponges. After enjoying the underwater world, head out of Port Campbell for more dramatic coastal limestone formations.

Some 6km west of town, The Arch is a natural rock arch best seen during rough seas when the water crashes through and around it. The viewing platform here also has great views back to the Twelve Apostles. Further west, London Bridge was a natural arched bridge from the mainland to an offshore rock stack until 1990 when it unexpectedly crashed into the sea and became a bridge without a middle. Just along from here is The Grotto, a calm, still rock pool which contrasts beautifully with the crashing ocean seen behind it, providing some great picture opportunities.

The coastline between Port Campbell and Peterborough is home to small colonies of fairy penguins, best seen as night falls. Plan to stay in Peterborough, either in a cabin or tent at the coastal Great Ocean Road Touring Park or in the comfortable rooms of the Great Ocean Road Beachfront Motel, and head out to sit silently on the beach as the sun sets. The fairy penguin stays at sea during the autumn-winter period but returns to its burrow daily the rest of the year so you may see groups of them returning from the waves. Watch for groups of penguins gathering beyond the surf – this precedes their return to shore.

From Peterborough make your way along the coast, looking out for dolphins playing in the waters offshore and coastal birds such as Australian gannets, oystercatchers and the white-bellied sea eagle as you go. As you head west towards Warrnambool, 54km from Peterborough, make sure you detour to the lookouts across to the Bay of Islands, a collection of offshore rock stacks and small islands which make for some unique ocean views. Warrnambool marks the end of the Great Ocean Road and offers a range of places to spend the night before heading west towards Portland as well as plenty of good places to eat.

Find out more about touring routes around the Great Ocean Road
Responsible Travel would like to thank Tourism Victoria for their sponsorship of this guide
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